Unipublic Snubs Radio Shack

Johan Bruyneel in the media scrum following Unipublic’s announcement.

A little over a week ago I wondered aloud in a Tweet if the Amaury Sport Organization might make a preemptive move against Radio Shack and withdraw the team’s invitation to the Tour de France. It would be an incredible blow to the team, but in the wake of Floyd Landis’ accusations against Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Levi Leipheimer and others, were the organizers to take Landis’ accusations as credible, history suggests they might just take such action.

Responses all ran the vein of ‘dead wrong.’ And yet now we have Team Radio Shack being denied a spot in the Vuelta a Espana. Like Garmin-Transitions, Radio Shack joined the ProTour since the 2008 agreement forged between the UCI and the organizers of the Grand Tours in which the UCI and the ProTour teams acknowledged the autonomy of the organizers to select only those teams they see fit.

Selections are not made in a vacuum. To help the organizers gauge a team’s potential competitive power, each team is asked to submit a roster of riders likely to ride the event. After all, if you’re Unipublic and you learn a team will send the same nine riders who rode both the Giro and Tour (not that that has ever happened), you’d be within your rights to conclude that team would be too tired to be truly competitive. Bruyneel’s short list of riders he submitted was an all-star squad: Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden, Chris Horner and Janez Brajkovic. Radio Shack also skipped the Giro d’Italia this year with an eye toward riding the Tour of California and just two Grand Tours.

Bruyneel says he was “speechless” when he learned of the exclusion. Representatives for Unipublic, the organizers of the Vuelta said they left Radio Shack because the team would not be competitive.

It’s true that Radio Shack has been criticized for not being more competitive this year, but let’s take a moment to measure them against the six teams that were invited to the Vuelta by wildcard and their ranking in the world according to the UCI:

Team Katusha: second

Cervelo Test Team: ninth

Garmin-Transitions: 15th

Sky Professional Cycling Team: 17th

Andalucia-Cajasur: unranked

Xacobeo Galicia: unranked

Radio Shack, following Brajkovic’s victory at the Criterium du Dauphiné, is ranked eighth in the world. Prior to that they were ranked 14th.

In his The History of the Tour de France, Volume I, Bill McGann writes that one of the key features that makes the Tour a better race than the other two Grand Tours is that its organizers have largely avoided petty, nationalistic spats that have hurt the other races.

I’d have to say that’s at work once again. In 2006, the ASO refused to allow nine riders to start the race due to their alleged involvement in Operacion Puerto. Because five of those riders were members of the Astana-Wurth team it fell below the minimum number to start the race, so some thirteen riders didn’t start the Tour.

It’s no secret that since the 2009 Tour Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel have been portrayed in the media as public enemy nos. 1 and 2. Whether most Spanish cycling fans feel that way is harder to say, but Marca and As have done much to foster the conflict between Contador and Bruyneel/Armstrong.

It’s impossible to say what Unipublic’s motivations are for the exclusion. No one would be surprised if the snub were as a result of the Landis allegations. It seems that most of Europe will concede both that he’s crazy and telling the truth about his drug use and the drugs he alleges Lance Armstrong took as well. However, Unipublic took a different approach saying that Radio Shack wouldn’t be competitive. I’m sorry, but you could send Chris Horner to almost any race in Europe aboard a Schwinn Varsity and he would still be competitive.

Of the six teams invited by wild card, only Team Katusha was more highly ranked in the world standings. We can objectively refute the organizer’s claims that Radio Shack would not be competitive. Put another way, as good a year as Garmin-Transitions seems to be having (Tyler Farrar is having a truly breakout season), in winning both the Tour of the Basque Country and the Criterium du Dauphiné (not to mention third at the Amgen Tour of California), Radio Shack is having a better season; at least, that’s what the UCI’s numbers say.

Had Unipublic declared that they believe Floyd Landis and harbor too many suspicions about Armstrong, Bruyneel and the rest to allow their race to be besmirched by the presence of a team under such strong suspicion, some racers, officials and many fans would have cried foul. However, such a decision is not without precedent—think 2007 Astana—and given the number of inquiries opened up into the pasts of so many former US Postal riders, many people wouldn’t have flinched at the announcement. More importantly, the decision, while presumptuous, wouldn’t have smacked of the irrational.

But Unipublic didn’t do that. They claimed that Radio Shack wasn’t competitive enough. That’s like saying Los Angeles doesn’t have enough roads. Everyone knows that’s crazy talk, and unfortunately the damage it does is three-fold. Radio Shack loses an opportunity to try to win a second Grand Tour in a season. Racing fans lose an opportunity to see racing influenced by what would be almost surely a dominant team, and Unipublic loses some of the respect we reserve for events whose integrity we believe helps to elevate sport beyond mere entertainment.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  2. Champs

    RadioShack passed on the Giro. Leipheimer didn’t win in California, and Armstrong is falling out of the class of favorites for July. Bruyneel is staring down a season that I won’t describe as squandered, but definitely more like 2006 than 2005.

    I can see how being RadioShack’s “backup babe” might be off-putting.

  3. marcj

    “Radio Shack also skipped the Giro d’Italia this year with an eye toward riding the Tour of California and just two Grand Tours.”

    Let’s call it what it was – a snub from Radio Shack, straight up. They were invited and blew it off. True they had some of their stars at the ToC, but they knew this before asking for the invite, and they had a list of riders who were not in the ToC who would have been very credible in the Giro. Worse, Radio Shack have been very public that the TdF is their one and only “A” race this year.

    So yeah, I guess I’d be a bit reluctant to invite the to my dance, too.

  4. JZ

    How can Bruyneel really be shocked by any decision an organizer of one of the three Grand Tours make. The Grand Tour organizers have all proven time and again that they will make all sorts of crazy decisions to create a spectacle and to prove that they are the king of their respective sandboxes.

  5. SinglespeedJarv

    Unipublic could have come up with a better reason for not inviting them. Perhaps even going so far as to say it was because of how they treated Bertie last year. As it is Spain, it’s unlikely to because of Landis’ calims.

    But maybe the world is turning against The Hog and Lance. The Hog can’t complain too much, he’s been at the heart of some fairly petty/underhand dealings over the years

  6. Alex Torres

    IMHO, there are 2 problems with this decision:

    1) If they´re trying to beat Lance and Bruyneel, they´re harming a ProTour TEAM with a LOT of talented and competitive riders who deserve respect and professional treatment above all. I mean, even if Radioshack is not at its best (and certainlly not at its worst), it´s still a team with a past and a future that should go beyind LA and JB. And yes, they are competitive, that´s ridiculous.

    2) I guess they used “non-competitive” as an excuse because if they went the “doping accusations-by-Landis” way – regardless of those being serious, true or whatnot – that would have been the biggest, most hypocritic, shameless and wood-faced declaration ever, ever. After all, it was the spanish cycling federation and legal system who swept Operation Puerto under the rug and played blind to the doping going on in spanish sports. It would be too much hipocrisy even for Unipublic.

    They own the ball and the field, but this is just pathetic IMHO.

  7. randomactsofcycling

    Bruyneel can have absolutely no complaints about this decision. What goes around comes around. Who was it that agreed not to sign convicted drug cheats for four years, then signed Basso as soon as his ban ended?
    The reasons for the decision may not be ‘claro’ but for a team that only cares for itself and for one race in particular, I think it is a good one.
    Bruyneel is only paying lip service. If RadioShack were truly annoyed at being excluded, the team owner would be all over the news.

  8. puck monkey

    Anyone here of a federal investigation going on? I don’t think it be good to have a result/leak come out during the tour or Vuelta.

  9. Adam

    I think in an age where sponsors are pulling out of cycling and new ones aren’t lining up to get in, that this presents a bad precedent.
    On paper, Radioshack should have been invited. Their sponsors anticipated the exposure and budgeted for it. If a new sponsor is thinking of forking out big money, the capriciousness of this scenario may act as a ‘how can I be certain my money won’t be wasted’ thought process.

  10. sophrosune

    In reality the decision came down to a choice between Sky and RadioShack. The two Spanish teams were a lock, and for good reason they have performed well in the Vuelta in the past, won stages and even have a GC contender in Mosquera. Garmin had a very good Vuelta last year and were no doubt bumped ahead of The Shack on that score alone. Katusha is not only ranked higher but they have a legitimate GC guy in Rodriquez. Cervelo is the same in that with Sastre they not only have a GC guy but a legitimate national hero.

    So, I more or less agree with the sporting criteria except when it comes to Sky. Sky sucks and they are the same as Radio Shack in apparently only caring about one race, the TdF. But I think the Vuelta organizers thought we have two new teams, one is doing all three grand tours and the other skipped one of them. Who should we take more seriously?

    For all the brillance you assign Bruyneel, Padraig, you think he would have seen this one coming. Are you a US team or a European team? If you’re trying to be both, don’t skip one of the three grand tours. It ain’t rocket science.

  11. Alex Torres

    I´m not sure it would have mede a difference if RS had raced the Giro. They skipped the Giro but were paid back with not being invited to Tirreno-Adriatico.

    But somehow I have the feeeling that “something” has changed in the last few months, not long ago everyone would kill to have Lance Armstrong & Co. participanting in their event. Could be the Landis accusations, could be LA´s stardom fading.

    Could be JB´s fault for something he did or said, though I can´t see how or why Johan´s stance and decisions as a team manager should be coutered by race organizers. As padraig said, that looks petty.

  12. Touriste-Routier

    Team Sky made the same investment that Radio Shack did, as did every other team sponsor. The bottom line is teams can’t sell what the don’t control delivery of. Unless you are covered by the 16 team guarantee, you are at the mercy of the race organizers for every race entry of your season; this is a known quantity, and there is no point in bemoaning it.

    The race organizers behavior and explanations on selections may seem bizarre or political to everyone on the outside, but they own the party, they have the risk, and they know their core audience and sponsors, so who is better to select the teams?

    Everyone but the UCI seems to know that the Pro Tour system is broken.

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  14. Amityskinnyguy

    Competitive does not equal wins. How else do you explain the popularity of Euskatel Euskadi? The total dominance by all star teams sucks the life out of races. Some how the futile competition of smaller weaker teams rings truer in my mind…

  15. cthulhu

    Did they have to post some kind of long list to race organisators? Or have they announce some riders starting somewhere else during that period of time?

    But i can somehow understand the organisators point. On paper they have some really good riders, but besides Brajkovic’s great performance at the Dauphine and their ToC performance there wasn’t really much. Nearly no active riding, nearly no riders in breakaways, not often in decisive parts of the races. They are completely focussing on the Tour as expected. And the Vuelta in the opinion of the organisers, my guess is, shouldn’t be there as the rebound if things in July go wrong, or if they go right just the B or even C squad show up. You don’t invite Radioshack and then neither LA, Levi, Steegmanns and Klöden show up. Maybe not even Horner or Brajkovic.

    I can really understand RS sending their best team to the ToC, as they are a US team with most of their sponsors and their main sponsor being US based and that being their biggest market. The colliding date with the Giro, that is the ToC organisators fault, that is pure bullshit, they never get to be the classy Tour they want to be, and maybe even could be, if they keep competing with the Giro.

    And as for JB aka “We don’t have no goals for that race, so we don’t compete”, how about sending Steegmanns there, getting some racing in his legs after his very bad performances in spring and pray he might win or test some stuff for the tour if your one trick pony fails…

    So all in all in my eyes it is a justified argument and not some bullshit to just keep them away because of Landis and the investigations. And also a bit payback by the organisators for them being a bit arrogant.

  16. Flahute

    While I’m sure the doping accusations have something to do with it, I also think that Team Radio Shack’s snub of the Giro d’Italia played a major role in why they weren’t invited to the Vuelta.

    When Angelo Zomegnan indicated in March that TRS wasn’t invited to the Giro, Armstrong was quick to point out on Twitter that they had sent a letter to the Giro organizer saying they wouldn’t be racing. Why invite a team that isn’t interested in participating?

    Radio Shack’s claims that they couldn’t field teams with enough depth at both the Tour of California and the Giro is a crock, as Liquigas, Saxo Bank, BMC, Garmin-Transitions and HTC-Columbia were able to field teams at both the Giro and the Tour of California.

    BMC arguably sent a weaker team to the Giro than they did to California, and still were in contention for the overall at the Giro for almost the entire race … and they’re just a Pro Continental team, not even a ProTour team. So why couldn’t Radio Shack field squads at both races?

    I’m sure there are other political reasons involved, such as the doping allegations you discussed, but I also feel that there’s a big “you get what you give” aspect to it.

    As one of the larger teams, Radio Shack has an implied obligation to race at the biggest events, and by snubbing the Giro, they left the door open to being snubbed by other races in return.

    1. Author

      Everyone: Thanks for all your comments. I’m on the road and it has been tough to keep up with everything.

      Some of you have put forward the idea that Radio Shack’s decision not to race the Giro in some way influenced Unipublic’s decision to snub Radio Shack. I don’t see how that makes sense. Were I working for Unipublic, I’d take the news that Radio Shack declined one Grand Tour to mean that they really wanted to be super-competitive at the other two.

      Consider this comparison: If you owned a restaurant and one of your city’s biggest tycoons never ate at your buddy’s restaurant down the street, you might be understandably perturbed that he wasn’t supporting the local dining, but would you turn him away if he walked in with a bunch of high roller buddies? I certainly wouldn’t kick him out and I wouldn’t insult him, either.

      Flahute: You pointed out how Liquigas, Saxo Bank, BMC, etc. managed to be competitive at both the ToC and the Giro, but if you consider how Bruyneel typically likes to race a Grand Tour, he doesn’t show up with a competitive team, he shows up with a very powerful team and tries to dominate it. It makes sense to me that racing both the Giro and the ToC would have meant fielding a less competitive team.

      Unipublic has done some backpedaling since the snub and more or less admitted that they are more concerned about a possible doping scandal, which most folks seem to take as being the Floyd Landis allegations. I don’t have a problem with Unipublic not inviting Radio Shack out of a concern for a possible doping scandla blowing up during their race, but I do think being honest about your motivation for not doing so is important.

      I’d like to think that organizations such as Unipublic would be above such pettiness as to not invite a team when they choose races strategically so they can present a more competitive team. If you follow that sort of logic to its natural conclusion you end up with either every team trying to race every single race and never being very effective or you end up with every team being left off invitations. It’s crazy.

  17. Henry

    If it came down to either Sky or RS. There are tons of Brits living and vacationing in Spain. Maybe Sky was a bigger draw for their audience.

    Everyone brings up Operation Puerto as a reason that the Spanish cannot exclude RS because of a potential drug scandal hitting the press during the Vuelta. But Operation Puerto is yesterdays news. It has zero impact on any decision relating to the impact of current doping investigations. Doesn’t matter what country Operation Puerto happened in or how the local authorities acted. What’s it got to do with this year’s Vuelta’s bottom line?

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